Khar Sros and Foy Sot (in the middle) sharing on women leadership and river protection

Indigenous Women Leaders and Her Invisible Power that Can Change Lives

Over a decade in my works in communication and media related, I have written various pieces that reflects the life of people and their reality. The Oxfam’s Water Governance Program’s Women Leader Profile is both a challenging and rewarding process. After engaging in the process of hearing about their life story, me and my team truly honour all women who are impassioned to the challenges and issues they are facing  and step forward in leading the way for the sustainable future of their communities. Listen to the inspiring stories of the women we spoke to broaden our understanding of the struggle  that women, many of whom are of indigenous origin at the frontlines fighting to protect the resources that are so close to their live and livelihood.

Foy Sot ,62 year old, an ethnic Lao minority from Ratanakiri province

Foy Sot , an ethnic Lao minority living in Faing village in Ratanakiri province, passionately tell us the beauty of her unique indigenous culture and the importance of  the Sesan River for her life and people in her village.The Sesan River that runs behind Foy Sot’s house has developed fond memory and nourish special connection in her heart. With this love, Foy Sot has dedicated her life to protect the river and livelihood of her community. For more than ten years, Sot has been working with her villagers and local authority to promote voice of indigenous communities that are affecting by the construction of Lower Sesan II hydropower dam.

A kid fishing at the bank of the Sesan River, where Foy Sot and her villagers depend on for living.     

Sot’s experience from an ordinary indigenous woman to be a community leader is not easy but inspiring. Difficulties , disappointments and hardworking have developed her resilience and strengthen her leadership. Sot has developed her confidence now to work and discuss with local authority and relevant partners in and outside her community to promote right of indigenous people especially for women and girls.

Foy Sot sharing a pleasant discussion together with her community members on river proctection.    

‘‘Being a good role model is very important. It does not only inspire people to support your work, but also it helps breed young leaders especially women as they need inspiration and guidance,’’ Sot shared her experience.        

Khar Sros, 62 year old ,Kui ethnic minority from Stung Treng province

It has been more than ten years for Khar Sros to begin her journey as a community leader for indigenous women groups. Sros’s journey was not much different from Sot at the beginning. She has to confront denials from many people in her community especially her family. She recalled that her husband did not support her at the beginning; however, her commitment earns her husband’s trust and respect.This helped change her husband’s  perception toward her and her work. “It was really challenging when your heart is committed to the community work , but your head is always wondering about family at home. But I never give up even though people  looked down on me, claiming as a woman working far away from home, I might commit improper act because of my frequent activities, out in forest, patrolling, or going to meetings,”

Khar Sros speaking during a photo exhibition on women leadership and water governance in Phnom Penh 

“Born as a woman I have rights to choose and make decision what is right and what is wrong.  I am working for my own destiny,” Said Khar Sros.

Both Sot and Sros have dedicated their time to build capacity and educate their next generation in their communities to be able to take on  leadership role. “Forest and water are our lives. We therefore must ensure that at least there remains resources for our next generations. I dare to die to protect my communities, even we have strong heart to protect community but we are getting old. We need our next generation to continue our mission to protect our resources” Said Khar Sros and Foy Sot. 

Indigenous Women have historically been recognised as the main cultivators, and defenders  of common  resources. To celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we are proud to share a small pieces of the total sum of what the unsung heroes of indigenous women in Cambodia and many more across the region that have scarify their personal time and energy. We all should work together to  Protect and support Indigenous Women then they will able to protect their community, and by having them in the leadership position will allow them to preserve their resources, knowledge, and history for future generations.

Women is also cultural practitioner, teacher, knowledge provider/holder that could transfer those expensive knowledges to next generation through their role as mother, kid’s educator and community leader.  For these reasons they are most likely to experience the first and worst effects from the loss of their resources , thus they are often found on the frontlines of any advocating and campaigns- protecting their river and safeguard of the environment, Thus it is important for us to recognize  and pay our gratitude by making them more visible and be proud of themselves through this profiling  and as well as make their life story to continue inspire and motivate to young generation, specially to promote more women leaders in our society.

Story by: Banung Ou and Kaneka Keo

“Joint together to surface Indigenous Women ‘s Leadership potential and make their leadership more visible”.